Since January, the Odessa Police Department has worked with its 10 newest recruits, preparing them to be sworn in as police officers when they graduate July 27.
These 10 recruits, should all of them graduate, will be filling much needed spots in Odessa’s police force, which is currently staffed at 147 officers, out of a budget of 182 officers.
With that many spots that need to be filled, and the impending oil boom in Odessa possibly causing more spots to be left, OPD Chief Mike Gerke said he wants to put an emphasis on a family atmosphere for his police force.
“People leave bad managers, bad organizations, bad culture,” Gerke said. “We just want to have a well-rounded relationship, not just with the officer, but with the entire family. The thought process being that people just don’t leave families as easily as they leave organizations.”
Some of the ways Gerke said he plans on building that atmosphere is by installing some financial planning and financial counseling for officers and their families. He said he had one meeting with the significant others of officers last October, and wants to hold more meetings like that to build an understanding of where each side is coming from.
Gerke said OPD has spread its wings since he took over as chief a year ago, in terms of recruiting. They still go by traditional methods, such as postings on job sites, and attending military job fairs and looking at other regional law enforcement academies, but are also putting more emphasis on their recruit intern position.
The OPD recruit interns, of which there are currently two, are people between the ages of 18 and 20 interested in a career as a police officer. As interns, OPD shows them what the job is about, and sends them to college. One of the requirements of being a recruit intern is attending six hours of college a semester. OPD Spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur said they are paid by the department to attend classes, and are also reimbursed upon completion of their classes.
“I think if we can get some homegrown people, and get them feeling like they belong with this organization, that they’ll stay,” Gerke said. “If you’re policing your hometown, you’re probably going to stay, as opposed to someone who comes from outside.”
Since beginning their police academy five years ago, they’ve been somewhat successful in keeping their officers on the force. Of the 98 recruits who have graduated from the academy, 51 are currently still employed with OPD and 65 of their graduates, or 68 percent, stayed with OPD for more than a year.
With the recent rise in oil prices, there runs the risk of more officers leaving to work in the oilfields, something Gerke and LeSeuer have said has been a problem in the past. Gerke said that there is always turnover in the department, but there has not been any drastic amount of officers quitting for oil work so far this year, and it’s hard to tell this time if that may happen.
“I think the last time that the boom hit, everyone expected it to last a lot longer than it did, and some of the people that left ended up getting laid off from their oilfield jobs,” Gerke said. “That can leave a sour taste.”
One of the recruiting points of the OPD, Gerke said, is OPD has never laid anyone off. As long as an officer doesn’t make a drastic mistake, they have a job for life.
“Do you make what you can make in the oilfield? Probably not,” Gerke said. “However, there’s job security here, there’s retirement, there’s benefits. There are advantages to being here.”
The starting annual salary of an OPD officer is $52,380. Recruits are also paid, making $47,432 a year.
One problem OPD can run into through the hiring process as well, Gerke said, is applicants being dishonest on their questionnaires. Applicants are required to fill out a personal history questionnaire about 50 pages long when applying, and some applicants have to be rejected just based off of their answers, or found being untruthful in their answers. Gerke said someone who stole a candy bar when they were in seventh grade may still be able to be a police officer, but if they lie about it, they automatically are rejected.
Currently, OPD is still hiring. Anyone interested in applying can contact OPD at 432-333-3641 or City of Odessa Human Resources at 432-335-3236.
“Being a police officer is kind of a calling,” Gerke said. “You kind of know as soon as you start whether it’s for you or not.”